Atmospheric Emissions

Peter Sherman, Shaojie Song, Xinyu Chen, and Michael B. McElroy. 2021. “Projected changes in wind power potential over China and India in high resolution climate models.” Environmental Research Letters, 16, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
As more countries commit to emissions reductions by midcentury to curb anthropogenic climate change, decarbonization of the electricity sector becomes a first-order task in reaching this goal. Renewables, particularly wind and solar power, will be predominant components of this transition. How availability of the wind and solar resource will change in the future in response to regional climate changes is an important and underdiscussed topic of the decarbonization process. Here, we study changes in potential for wind power in China and India, evaluating prospectively until the year 2060. To do this, we study a downscaled, high-resolution multimodel ensemble of CMIP5 models under high and low emissions scenarios. While there is some intermodel variability, we find that spatial changes are generally consistent across models, with decreases of up to 965 (a 1% change) and 186 TWh (a 2% change) in annual electricity generation potential for China and India, respectively. Compensating for the declining resource are weakened seasonal and diurnal variabilities, allowing for easier large-scale wind power integration. We conclude that while the ensemble indicates available wind resource over China and India will decline slightly in the future, there remains enormous potential for significant wind power expansion, which must play a major role in carbon neutral aspirations.
Qing Yang, Hewen Zhou, Pietro Bartocci, Francesco Fantozzi, Ondřej Mašek, Foster Agblevor, Zhiyu Wei, Haiping Yang, Hanping Chen, Xi Lu, Guoqian Chen, Chuguang Zheng, Chris Nielsen, and Michael McElroy. 2021. “Prospective contributions of biomass pyrolysis to China’s 2050 carbon reduction and renewable energy goals.” Nature Communications. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Deployment of negative emission technologies needs to start immediately if we are to avoid overshooting international carbon targets, reduce negative climate impacts, and minimize costs of emission mitigation. Actions in China, given its importance for the global anthropogenic carbon budget, can be decisive. While bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) may need years to mature, this study focuses on developing a ready-to-implement biomass intermediate pyrolysis poly-generation (BIPP) technology to produce a potentially stable form of biochar, a medium for carbon storage, and to provide a significant source of valuable biofuels, especially pyrolysis gas. Combining the experimental data with hybrid models, the results show that a BIPP system can be profitable without subsidies: its national deployment could contribute to a 68% reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP in 2030 compared to 2005 and could result additionally in a reduction in air pollutant emissions. With 73% of national crop residues converted to biochar and other biofuels in the near term (2020 to 2030), the cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction could reach up to 5653 Mt CO2-eq by 2050, which could contribute 9-20% of the global GHG emission reduction goal for BECCS (28-65 Gt CO2-eq in IPCC’s 1.5 °C pathway), and nearly 2633 Mt more than that projected for BECCS alone. The national BIPP development strategy is developed on a provincial scale based on a regional economic and life-cycle analysis. 
Haikun Wang, Xiaojing He, Xinyu Liang, Ernani F. Choma, Yifan Liu, Li Shan, Haotian Zheng, Shaojun Zhang, Chris Nielsen, Shuxiao Wang, Ye Wu, and John Evans. 2020. “Health benefits of on-road transportation pollution control programs in China.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sept 2020, 201921271. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China started to implement comprehensive measures to mitigate traffic pollution at the end of 1990s, but the comprehensive effects, especially on ambient air quality and public health, have not yet been systematically evaluated. In this study, we analyze the effects of vehicle emission control measures on ambient air pollution and associated deaths attributable to long-term exposures of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and O3 based on an integrated research framework that combines scenario analysis, air quality modeling, and population health risk assessment. We find that the total impact of these control measures was substantial. Vehicular emissions during 1998–2015 would have been 2–3 times as large as they actually were, had those measures not been implemented. The national population-weighted annual average concentrations of PM2.5 and O3 in 2015 would have been higher by 11.7 μg/m3 and 8.3 parts per billion, respectively, and the number of deaths attributable to 2015 air pollution would have been higher by 510 thousand (95% confidence interval: 360 thousand to 730 thousand) without these controls. Our analysis shows a concentration of mortality impacts in densely populated urban areas, motivating local policymakers to design stringent vehicle emission control policies. The results imply that vehicle emission control will require policy designs that are more multifaceted than traditional controls, primarily represented by the strict emission standards, with careful consideration of the challenges in coordinated mitigation of both PM2.5 and O3 in different regions, to sustain improvement in air quality and public health given continuing swift growth in China’s vehicle population.
Haotian Zheng, Shaojie Song, Golam Sarwar, Masao Gen, Shuxiao Wang, Dian Ding, Xing Chang, Shuping Zhang, Jia Xing, Yele Sun, Dongsheng Ji, Chak Chan, Jian Gao, and Michael B. McElroy. 2020. “Contribution of particulate nitrate photolysis to heterogeneous sulfate formation for winter haze in China.” Environmental Science & Technology Letters , 7, 9, Pp. 632–638. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Nitrate and sulfate are two key components of airborne particulate matter (PM). While multiple formation mechanisms have been proposed for sulfate, current air quality models commonly underestimate its concentrations and mass fractions during northern China winter haze events. On the other hand, current models usually overestimate the mass fractions of nitrate. Very recently, laboratory studies have proposed that nitrous acid (N(III)) produced by particulate nitrate photolysis can oxidize sulfur dioxide to produce sulfate. Here, for the first time, we parameterize this heterogeneous mechanism into the state-of-the-art Community Multi-scale Air Quality (CMAQ) model and quantify its contributions to sulfate formation. We find that the significance of this mechanism mainly depends on the enhancement effects (by 1–3 orders of magnitude as suggested by the available experimental studies) of nitrate photolysis rate constants in aerosol liquid water compared to that in the gas phase. Comparisons between model simulations and in-situ observations in Beijing suggest that this pathway can explain about 15% (assuming an enhancement factor (EF) of 10) to 65% (assuming EF = 100) of the model–observation gaps in sulfate concentrations during winter haze. Our study strongly calls for future research on reducing the uncertainty in EF.
Xueli Zhao, Xiaofang Wu, Chenghe Guan, Rong Ma, Chris P. Nielsen, and Bo Zhang. 2020. “Linking agricultural GHG emissions to the global trade network.” Earth's Future, 8, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
As part of the climate policy to meet the 2‐degrees Celsius (2 °C) target, actions in all economic sectors, including agriculture, are required to mitigate global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While there has been an ever‐increasing focus on agricultural greenhouse gas (AGHG) emissions, limited attention has been paid to their economic drivers in the globalized world economy and related mitigation potentials. This paper makes a first attempt to trace AGHG emissions via global trade networks using a multi‐regional input‐output model and a complex network model. Over one third of global AGHG emissions in 2012 can be linked with products traded internationally, of which intermediate trade and final trade contribute 64.2% and 35.8%, respectively. Japan, the USA, Germany, the UK, and Hong Kong are the world's five largest net importers of embodied emissions, while Ethiopia, Australia, Pakistan, India and Argentina are the five largest net exporters. Some hunger‐afflicted developing countries in Asia and Africa are important embodied emission exporters, due to their large‐scale exports of agricultural products. Trade‐related virtual AGHG emission transfers shape a highly heterogenous network, due to the coexistence of numerous peripheral economies and a few highly‐connected hub economies. The network clustering structure is revealed by the regional integration of several trading communities, while hub economies are collectors and distributors in the global trade network, with important implications for emission mitigation. Achieving AGHG emission reduction calls for a combination of supply‐ and demand‐side policies covering the global trade network.
Archana Dayalu, J. William Munger, Yuxuan Wang, Steven C. Wofsy, Yu Zhao, Thomas Nehrkorn, Chris P. Nielsen, Michael B. McElroy, and Rachel Chang. 2020. “Evaluating China's anthropogenic CO2 emissions inventories: a northern China case study using continuous surface observations from 2005 to 2009.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China has pledged reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 60 %–65 % relative to 2005 levels, and to peak carbon emissions overall by 2030. However, the lack of observational data and disagreement among the many available inventories makes it difficult for China to track progress toward these goals and evaluate the efficacy of control measures. To demonstrate the value of atmospheric observations for constraining CO2 inventories we track the ability of CO2 concentrations predicted from three different CO2 inventories to match a unique multi-year continuous record of atmospheric CO2. Our analysis time window includes the key commitment period for the Paris Agreement (2005) and the Beijing Olympics (2008). One inventory is China-specific and two are spatial subsets of global inventories. The inventories differ in spatial resolution, basis in national or subnational statistics, and reliance on global or China-specific emission factors. We use a unique set of historical atmospheric observations from 2005 to 2009 to evaluate the three CO2 emissions inventories within China's heavily industrialized and populated northern region accounting for ∼33 %–41 % of national emissions. Each anthropogenic inventory is combined with estimates of biogenic CO2 within a high-resolution atmospheric transport framework to model the time series of CO2 observations. To convert the model–observation mismatch from mixing ratio to mass emission rates we distribute it over a region encompassing 90 % of the total surface influence in seasonal (annual) averaged back-trajectory footprints (L_0.90 region). The L_0.90 region roughly corresponds to northern China. Except for the peak growing season, where assessment of anthropogenic emissions is entangled with the strong vegetation signal, we find the China-specific inventory based on subnational data and domestic field studies agrees significantly better with observations than the global inventories at all timescales. Averaged over the study time period, the unscaled China-specific inventory reports substantially larger annual emissions for northern China (30 %) and China as a whole (20 %) than the two unscaled global inventories. Our results, exploiting a robust time series of continuous observations, lend support to the rates and geographic distribution in the China-specific inventory Though even long-term observations at a single site reveal differences among inventories, exploring inventory discrepancy over all of China requires a denser observational network in future efforts to measure and verify CO2 emissions for China both regionally and nationally. We find that carbon intensity in the northern China region has decreased by 47 % from 2005 to 2009, from approximately 4 kg of CO2 per USD (note that all references to USD in this paper refer to USD adjusted for purchasing power parity, PPP) in 2005 to about 2 kg of CO2 per USD in 2009 (Fig. 9c). However, the corresponding 18 % increase in absolute emissions over the same time period affirms a critical point that carbon intensity targets in emerging economies can be at odds with making real climate progress. Our results provide an important quantification of model–observation mismatch, supporting the increased use and development of China-specific inventories in tracking China's progress as a whole towards reducing emissions. We emphasize that this work presents a methodology for extending the analysis to other inventories and is intended to be a comparison of a subset of anthropogenic CO2 emissions rates from inventories that were readily available at the time this research began. For this study's analysis time period, there was not enough spatially distinct observational data to conduct an optimization of the inventories. The primary intent of the comparisons presented here is not to judge specific inventories, but to demonstrate that even a single site with a long record of high-time-resolution observations can identify major differences among inventories that manifest as biases in the model–data comparison. This study provides a baseline analysis for evaluating emissions from a small but important region within China, as well a guide for determining optimal locations for future ground-based measurement sites.
Meng Gao, Zirui Liu, Bo Zheng, Dongsheng Ji, Peter Sherman, Shaojie Song, Jinyuan Xin, Cheng Liu, Yuesi Wang, Qiang Zhang, Jia Xing, Jingkun Jiang, Zifa Wang, Gregory R. Carmichael, and Michael B. McElroy. 2020. “China's emission control strategies have suppressed unfavorable influences of climate on wintertime PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing since 2002.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 20, 3, Pp. 1497-1505. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Severe wintertime PM2.5 pollution in Beijing has been receiving increasing worldwide attention, yet the decadal variations remain relatively unexplored. Combining field measurements and model simulations, we quantified the relative influences of anthropogenic emissions and meteorological conditions on PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing over the winters of 2002–2016. Between the winters of 2011 and 2016, stringent emission control measures resulted in a 21 % decrease in mean mass concentrations of PM2.5 in Beijing, with 7 fewer haze days per winter on average. Given the overestimation of PM2.5 by the model, the effectiveness of stringent emission control measures might have been slightly overstated. With fixed emissions, meteorological conditions over the study period would have led to an increase in haze in Beijing, but the strict emission control measures have suppressed the unfavorable influences of the recent climate. The unfavorable meteorological conditions are attributed to the weakening of the East Asia winter monsoon associated particularly with an increase in pressure associated with the Aleutian Low.
S.J. Song, M. Gao, W.Q. Xu, Y.L. Sun, D.R. Worsnop, J.T. Jayne, Y.Z. Zhang, L. Zhu, M. Li, Z. Zhou, C.L. Cheng, Y.B. Lv, Y. Wang, W. Peng, X.B. Xu, N. Lin, Y.X. Wang, S.X. Wang, J. W. Munger, D. Jacob, and M.B. McElroy. 2019. “Possible heterogeneous hydroxymethanesulfonate (HMS) chemistry in northern China winter haze and implications for rapid sulfate formation.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19, Pp. 1357-1371. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The chemical mechanisms responsible for rapid sulfate production, an important driver of winter haze formation in northern China, remain unclear. Here, we propose a potentially important heterogeneous hydroxymethanesulfonate (HMS) chemical mechanism. Through analyzing field measurements with aerosol mass spectrometry, we show evidence for a possible significant existence in haze aerosols of organosulfur primarily as HMS, misidentified as sulfate in previous observations. We estimate that HMS can account for up to about one-third of the sulfate concentrations unexplained by current air quality models. Heterogeneous production of HMS by SO2 and formaldehyde is favored under northern China winter haze conditions due to high aerosol water content, moderately acidic pH values, high gaseous precursor levels, and low temperature. These analyses identify an unappreciated importance of formaldehyde in secondary aerosol formation and call for more research on sources and on the chemistry of formaldehyde in northern China winter.
China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities
Haikun Wang, Xi Lu, Yu Deng, Yaoguang Sun, Chris P. Nielsen, Yifan Liu, Ge Zhu, Maoliang Bu, Jun Bi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2019. “China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities.” Nature Sustainability, 2, Pp. 748–754. Publisher's VersionAbstract

China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or sooner under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C or less by the end of the century. By examining CO2 emissions from 50 Chinese cities over the period 2000–2016, we found a close relationship between per capita emissions and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for individual cities, following the environmental Kuznets curve, despite diverse trajectories for CO2 emissions across the cities. Results show that carbon emissions peak for most cities at a per capita GDP (in 2011 purchasing power parity) of around US$21,000 (80% confidence interval: US$19,000 to 22,000). Applying a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the peak of per capita emissions using a Kuznets function based on China’s historical emissions, we project that emissions for China should peak at 13–16 GtCO2 yr−1 between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 yr ahead of the current Paris target of 2030. We show that the challenges faced by individual types of Chinese cities in realizing low-carbon development differ significantly depending on economic structure, urban form and geographical location.

Ying Wang, Bin Chen, Chenghe Guan, and Bo Zhang. 2019. “Evolution of methane emissions in global supply chains during 2000-2012.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 150, 104414. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Reduction of methane emissions (CH4) plays an important role in addressing global climate change. Most previous studies have focused on the direct CH4 emissions of economies, but overlooked the upstream CH4 emissions along global supply chains induced by the final consumption of economies. Using a global multi-regional input-output analysis, this study aims to explore the evolution of CH4 emissions embodied in international trade and final consumption in major economies during 2000–2012. The results show that China, the EU, USA, India and Brazil were the top five economies with high volumes of consumption-based CH4 emissions from 2000 to 2012. In particular, China’s consumption-based CH4 emissions showed an observable growth trend, while the EU, the USA and Japan showed a downward trend. It’s estimated that growing amounts of CH4 emissions (i.e., the volume increase from 77.1 Mt in 2000 to 95.9 Mt in 2012) were transferred globally via international trade, primarily as exports from China, Russia and other large developing economies to consumers in major developed economies. Russia–EU, China–USA and China–EU formed the main bilateral trading pairs of embodied emission flows. Further analysis found that per capita consumption-based CH4 emissions was closely related to their per capita GDP. Quantifying the CH4 emissions embodied in trade and final demand of major economies can provide important basis for understanding economy-wide emission drivers to design global and regional CH4 reduction scheme from a consumer perspective.
Wenjie Tian, Xudong Wu, Rong Ma, and Bo Zhang. 2019. “Quantifying global CH4 and N2O footprints.” Journal of Environmental Management, 251, 109566. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This study aims to quantify global CH4 and N2O footprints in 2012 in terms of 181 economies and 20 world regions based on the official national emission accounts from the UNFCCC database and the global multi-region input-output accounts from the EORA database. Global total CH4 and N2O emissions increased by 15.0% in 2012 compared to 1990, mainly driven by increasing demands of agricultural and energy products. Mainland China, Western Europe, the USA, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa were identified as the largest five CH4 footprint contributors (55.6% of the global total), while Mainland China, the USA, Western Europe, Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa as the largest N2O footprint contributors (59.2% of the global total). In most developed economies, the CH4 and N2O footprints were much higher than their emissions on the production side, but opposite picture is observed in emerging economies. 36.4% and 24.8% of the global CH4 and N2O emissions in 2012 were associated with international trade, respectively. Substantial energy-related CH4 and agricultural CH4 and N2O emissions were transferred from developed countries to developing countries. Several nations within Kyoto targets have reduced their CH4 and N2O emissions significantly between 1990 and 2012, but the generally-believed success is challenged when viewing from the consumption side. Mainland China, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, Middle East and India witnessed prominent increase of CH4 and N2O footprints in the same period. The structure and spatial patterns of global CH4 and N2O footprints shed light on the role of consumption-side actions and international cooperation for future non-CO2 GHG emission reduction.
Peter Sherman, Meng Gao, Shaojie Song, Patrick Ohiomoba, Alex Archibald, and Michael B. McElroy. 2019. “The influence of dynamics and emissions changes on China’s wintertime haze.” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 58, Pp. 1603-1611. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Haze days induced by aerosol pollution in North and East China have posed a persistent and growing problem over the past few decades. These events are particularly threatening to densely-populated cities such as Beijing. While the sources of this pollution are predominantly anthropogenic, natural climate variations may also play a role in allowing for atmospheric conditions conducive to formation of severe haze episodes over populated areas. Here, an investigation is conducted into the effects of changes in global dynamics and emissions on air quality in China’s polluted regions using 35 simulations developed from the Community Earth Systems Model Large Ensemble (CESM LENS) run over the period 1920-2100. It is shown that internal variability significantly modulates aerosol optical depth (AOD) over China; it takes roughly a decade for the forced response to balance the effects from internal variability even in China’s most polluted regions. Random forest regressions are used to accurately model (R2 > 0.9) wintertime AOD using just climate oscillations, the month of the year and emissions. How different phases of each oscillation affect aerosol loading are projected using these regressions. AOD responses are identified for each oscillation, with particularly strong responses from El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). As ENSO can be projected a few months in advance and improvements in linear inverse modelling (LIM) may yield a similar predictability for the PDO, results of this study offer opportunities to improve the predictability of China’s severe wintertime haze events, and to inform policy options that could mitigate subsequent health impacts.

Yan Zhang, Xin Bo, Yu Zhao, and Chris P. Nielsen. 2019. “Benefits of current and future policies on emissions of China's coal-fired power sector indicated by continuous emission monitoring.” Environmental Pollution, 251, Pp. 415-424. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Emission inventories are critical to understanding the sources of air pollutants, but have high uncertainties in China due in part to insufficient on-site measurements. In this study, we developed a method of examining, screening and applying online data from the country's improving continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) to reevaluate a “bottom-up” emission inventory of China's coal-fired power sector. The benefits of China's current national emission standards and ultra-low emission policy for the sector were quantified assuming their full implementation. The derived national average emission factors of SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) were 1.00, 1.00 and 0.25 kg/t-coal respectively for 2015 based on CEMS data, smaller than those of previous studies that may not fully recognize improved emission controls in recent years. The annual emissions of SO2, NOx and PM from the sector were recalculated at 1321, 1430 and 334 Gg respectively, 75%, 63% and 76% smaller than our estimates based on a previous approach without the benefit of CEMS data. The results imply that online measurement with proper data screening can better track the recent progress of emission controls. The emission intensity (the ratio of emissions to economic output) of Northwest China was larger than that of other regions, attributed mainly to its less intensive economy and industry. Transmission of electricity to more-developed eastern provinces raised the energy consumption and emissions of less-developed regions. Judged by 95 percentiles of flue-gas concentrations measured by CEMS, most power plants met the current national emission standards in 2015 except for those in Northwest and Northeast China, while plants that met the ultra-low emission policy were much scarcer. National SO2, NOx and PM emissions would further decline by 68%, 55% and 81% respectively if the ultra-low emission policy can be strictly implemented, implying the great potential of the policy for emission abatement.
2019 Mar 07

China and Asia in a Changing Climate: Natural Science for the Non-Scientist

12:15pm to 1:45pm


CGIS South S020, Belfer Case Study Room, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA


  • Professor John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University; Co-Director of Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, HKS; former Science Advisor to President Barack Obama and former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Professor Peter Huybers, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Professor Elsie SunderlandGordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Professor Steve Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Chair: Professor Mike McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Chair, Harvard-China Project on Energy, Economy and Environment... Read more about China and Asia in a Changing Climate: Natural Science for the Non-Scientist